Massa v. Nastri

Decision Date05 January 1939
Citation3 A.2d 839,125 Conn. 144
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesMASSA v. NASTRI et al.

Appeal from Superior Court, New Haven County; Kenneth Wynne and Frank P. McEvoy, Judge.

Action by Loretta Massa against Louis Nastri and another for injuries sustained while riding as a guest in defendants' automobile. The defendants' demurrers to the amended first count of the plaintiff's complaint were sustained and, plaintiff failing to plead further, judgment was rendered for the defendants, and the plaintiff appeals.

No error.

Abraham S. Ullman and Edward W. Cohen, both of New Haven, for appellant.

William L. Hadden and Clarence A. Hadden, both of New Haven (Daniel Pouzzner, of New Haven, on the brief), for appellees.


HINMAN, Judge.

The complaint alleged in the first count that the plaintiff was a gratuitous guest in a car owned by the named defendant and operated by the other defendant, Massa, who was her husband and was injured, July 18, 1936, through the negligence of the latter. A second count alleged reckless and heedless operation but was later withdrawn and plays no part in the present appeal. At the date of injury, § 1628 of the General Statutes was in effect and provided that no person transported in a motor vehicle as a guest without payment therefor ‘ shall have a cause of action for damages against [the] owner or operator for injury, death or loss, in case of accident, unless such accident shall have been intentional on the part of such owner or operator or caused by his heedlessness or his reckless disregard of the rights of others.’ The General Assembly at its 1937 session passed an act (Public Acts, Chap. 270, 1937 Supp. § 351d) providing that Section 1628 is repealed’ which became effective July 1, 1937. This action was brought thereafter, by writ dated July 9, 1937. The defendants demurred to the first count on the ground that it alleges that the accident was caused by negligence of the operator and not that it was caused by his heedlessness or reckless disregard of the rights of others. The sustaining of the demurrers is assigned as error, the issue being whether because of the repeal of the guest statute, the plaintiff may now recover for ordinary negligence, or, as the plaintiff also states it, ‘ whether or not the defendants may claim immunity to liability for common-law negligence after the statute creating that immunity has been repealed.’ The outcome depends upon the construction and effect to be accorded the act of repeal.

The general rule is that laws are to be interpreted as operating prospectively and considered as furnishing a rule for future cases only, unless they contain language unequivocally and certainly embracing past transactions. Smith v. Lyon, 44 Conn. 175, 178. ‘ The presumption is that statutes affecting substantive rights are intended to operate prospectively, and section 6572 of the General Statutes provides that: ‘ No provision of the general statutes, not previously contained in the statutes of this state, which shall impose any new obligations upon any person or corporation, shall be construed to have a retrospective effect.’ ' Toletti v. Bidizcki, 118 Conn. 531, 536, 173 A. 223, 225. Whether or not the rule against retrospective construction applies fully to acts repealing prior statutes, without a saving clause or other clear expression of intention, such repeal does not operate to impair rights that have been vested while the statute was in force. I Lewis' Sutherland, Statutory Construction, 2d Ed., pp. 544, 546; 59 C.J. pp. 1185, 1187. A right of action, including one for personal injuries, is a vested property interest, before as well as after judgment, at least ‘ where it comes into existence under common-law principles, and is not given by statute as a mere penalty or without equitable basis.’ Siller v. Siller, 112 Conn. 145, 150, 151 A. 524, 525, quoting Judge Cooley in Dunlap v. Toledo, A. A. & G. T. Ry. Co., 50 Mich. 470, 474, 15 N.W. 555. See, also, Hubbard v. Brainard, 35 Conn. 563, 576. Vested rights include title, legal or equitable, ‘ to the present or future enforcement of a demand, or a legal exemption from a demand made by another,’ although it must be ‘ something more than such a mere expectation as may be based upon an anticipated continuance of the present general laws.’ 2 Cooley, Constitutional Limitations, 8th Ed., 749. The rule that repeal does not operate to affect vested rights is applicable not only to those acquired under contracts ( First Ecclesiastical Society of Suffield v. Loomis, 42 Conn. 570, 574) but also to vested rights of action to recover damages for torts. 59 C.J. 1187.

A statute will not be given a retroactive construction by which it will impose liabilities not existing prior to its passage. ‘ Laws which create new obligations * * * because of past transactions, have been universally reprobated by civil and common law writers, and it is to be presumed that no statute is intended to have such effect, unless the contrary clearly appears.’ Pignaz v. Burnett, 119 Cal 157, 160, 51 P. 48, 49; In re Estate of Parker, 200 Cal. 132, 142, 251 P. 907, 49 A.L.R. 1025; 59 C.J. 1172. The rule that laws are not to be construed as applying to cases which arise before their passage is applicable when to disregard it would impose an unexpected liability that if known might have caused those concerned to avoid it. People ex rel. Griffith, Inc. v. Loughman, 249 N.Y. 369, 379, 164 N.E. 253; Lewellyn v. Frick, 268 U.S. 238, 252, 45 S.Ct. 487, 69 L.Ed. 934. To accord to the repeal of § 1628 of the General Statutes the effect of relegating the...

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52 cases
  • Aetna Life and Cas. Co. v. Braccidiferro
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 28, 1994
    ...rule for future cases only, unless they contain language unequivocally and certainly embracing past transactions." Massa v. Nastri, 125 Conn. 144, 146-47, 3 A.2d 839 (1939). "It is a rule of construction that legislation is to be applied prospectively unless the legislature clearly expresse......
  • District of Columbia v. Beretta U.S.A.
    • United States
    • D.C. Court of Appeals
    • January 10, 2008
    ...[i.e., the District employee] was a property right," id. at 375, the court quoted in a footnote this passage from Massa v. Nastri, 125 Conn. 144, 3 A.2d 839, 840 (1939): "A right of action ... is a vested property interest at least `where it comes into existence under common-law principles,......
  • Shannon v. Comm'r of Hous.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • August 2, 2016
    ...533 U.S. 289, 121 S.Ct. 2271, in determining whether probation statute was being applied retroactively); accord Massa v. Nastri, 125 Conn. 144, 148, 3 A.2d 839 (1939) (“A statute will not be given a retroactive construction by which it will impose liabilities not existing prior to its passa......
  • Henrich v. Libertyville High School
    • United States
    • Illinois Supreme Court
    • December 3, 1998
    ...Constitutional Law § 260(b), at 91 (1984); accord 6 R.C.L. Constitutional Law § 306, at 319 (1915); see, e.g., Massa v. Nastri, 125 Conn. 144, 148-49, 3 A.2d 839, 841 (1939) (amended statute cannot retroactively impose on defendant liability for simple negligence when, under former statute,......
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